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Summer is upon us, which invariably means vacations, near and far. But this is also 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic. Worldwide, residential stay-at-home orders, visitor quarantines and business shutdowns are in place to varying degrees. Yet people can only stay put for so long, that wanderlust itch becoming more than a seasonal symptom. With COVID-19 still a universal crisis and face-covered social distancing the new norm, many would-be travelers have decided to rekindle a past romance: the road trip.

The caveat? Travelers will still need to book a hotel, motel or holiday bed-and-breakfast between visits to wacky and wonky roadside attractions. Enter the recreational vehicle, aka the RV, aka the largely forgotten mode of transportation. But don't dismiss it thinking you need to be a retiree to be an RV owner or driver because, guess what? They may have been doing it right all along. A completely self-contained home on wheels, the only schedule you need to follow on a RV vacation is your own. And, yes, you can rent an RV, campervan, motorhome or travel trailer just like pretty much anything else in this use-before-you-buy world.

Read more: Essential camp cooking gear makes the great outdoors delicious

No doubt the interest is there. Cruise America, the largest RV rental company in the US, has seen call volume triple with the call lengths themselves doubling as well. "We're seeing a lot of first-time renters so we're taking the time to answer their questions and help them be comfortable with their rental," says Cruise America's Randall Smalley, executive assistant vice president for global marketing and business development. Reservations have more than tripled year-over-year.

If you're willing to drive something big, you can have almost all the comforts of home in a RV.

RVshare

Even smaller companies are feeling the love. "We've seen a huge bump in US web traffic and calls," says Carley Clegg, marketing content coordinator for Escape Campervans. By the numbers, year-over-year Escape Campervans has seen web traffic increase by 230% with bookings since April up by an eye-opening 1,700%. 

Never mind if you've never set foot in a camper. We've got you covered. Scroll on for the basics of RV life, some planning tips and a list of the best RV rental companies, based on user reviews and our own research, for when you decide to dip your toe into the RVing waters.

What type of motorhome should you rent?

The term RV is rather generic and even misleading. The image of a massive motorhome probably comes to mind. But consider that campervans, fifth wheel trailers, pop-up campers and the like fall under this catchall. For this list, though, we'll focus exclusively on motorized vehicles.

Class A motorhomes are the largest and most spacious

Class A motor coaches are the prototypes, being the largest and most expensive, and can replace a home and car for a truly nomadic experience. They range in length from 30 to 45 feet and exude the sexiness of a bus. Because of their size (they usually sleep up to six people) and built-in accommodations (like a washer/dryer combo), brand-new Class A RVs start around $70,000 and can price upwards into the millions for high-end, fully customized vehicles.

Class B motorhomes are perfect for couples and easier to park

Class B RV vehicles are built on a van chassis and this is where campervans fall in. Thanks to their shorter length (20-25 feet), Class B RVs are more flexible in terms of parking at the RV park or campground and are surprisingly garage friendly. But there are compromises in terms of space (four people will be snug) and amenities (think pull-out kitchens and no bathroom). Class B vehicles are generally the go-to RV for solo travelers and couples.

Pricing for a new Class B RV varies greatly, because unlike a Class A or Class C, which are manufactured for use specifically as motorhomes, Class B vehicles can start off as a run-of-the-mill minivan with a few added amenities like a pop-up tent and hot plate, to a large cargo van customized with a galley, cabinets and toilet. For reference, a 2020 Chrysler Voyager starts at $26,985 and a basic conversion kit from companies such as Titan Vans start at $35,995 -- vehicle not included.

Class C motorhomes are smaller and more affordable

If you're looking at a Class C RV, that means it's a truck-based vehicle that looks the part. While Class B vehicles can be as simple as a converted high-roofline cargo or passenger van, Class C RVs are purpose-built. They have that distinct "cab-over" design. Although much smaller than a Class A, Class C motorhomes offer many similar amenities, like built-in kitchens, showers and storage. New ones range from $50,000 to $120,000 at RV dealerships. Class C RVs are best suited for families or small groups.

Life on the open road would be quite comfortable in a rig like this.

Escape Campervans

Where to start in terms of finding the right RV rental? Most will be peer-to-peer rentals, of which RVshare is the largest marketplace and has been around since 2012. But there are fleet direct motorhome rental companies like Cruise America, which has been in operation since 1972 and is the largest of its kind. Kampgrounds of America has a great directory for finding RV rentals near you, with listings that include local, single-location businesses and large nationwide networks. But if you're unsure of where to start when it comes to the camper rental world, check out the following list of recommended RV rental companies, based on what our research yielded about various kinds of travel plans. 

Note all starting prices are rates based on reservations made in June for one-week rentals out of Los Angeles during the week of Aug. 1-8 (peak summer season). Cost per night does not include taxes or additional fees and will fluctuate based on shorter or longer rental periods. Vehicles are subject to availability.

Cruise America

Cruise America offers Class C motorhome rentals for RV camping that range in occupancy from three to seven people. Some peace of mind for groups and families is that all rentals come equipped with a shower, fresh water toilet, refrigerator and microwave. Beds are fixed, rather than Murphy-style pulldowns, so there's always a comfortable place to rest. Combined with Cruise Canada, the employee-owned company has 132 locations in North America, includes insurance with every rental, and provides 24-hour renter's assistance via the mobile app, online or by phone. You can contact the company for everything from campsite locations to vehicle troubleshooting.

Details: Best RV rental company for families/groups

Company Cruise America
Locations 126 across the US and Canada
RV type Class C RVs
Starting price per night $70
Minimum stay Three nights
One more thing… Cruise America offers a number of special deals, including free nights
Escape Campervans

With 12 locations across the US and Canada, Escape Campervans offers a selection of rental options with capacity for two to five people. As its name suggests, its late-model fleet (vehicles are 2012 model year or newer) consists of Class B vehicles, but with a Jeep Wrangler Sahara and Class C cab-over Ford F-150 thrown into the mix. While there are creature comforts available like a queen-sized bed and kitchenette with a pull-out stove and refrigerator, only the Class C option has a bathroom. But as a couple of buds or significant others, highway rest stops and overnight campsites are easier to manage than with a larger RV. 

Escape Campervans rentals include insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance. Note that its vehicles are wrapped in unique artwork, so if you're looking to stay under the radar while you travel, the rooftop tent-equipped Jeep is your only option.

Details: Best RV rental company for couples

Company Escape Campervans
Locations 12 across the US and Canada
RV type Class B RVs
Starting price per night $67
Minimum stay Three nights
One more thing… Escape Campervans is the largest such rental company in North America
RVshare

Rolling solo? RVshare has a network of 60,000 owners that you can filter through to enjoy RVing as cheaply or extravagantly as you like. There are Class B RV campervans available for as little as $50 per night -- or go nuts with a Class A penthouse on wheels for $1,200 per night with delivery included. RVshare vets both its owners and renters. Insurance, 24/7 customer assistance and a rental-replacement guarantee are included in every rental RV. Whether you're making a last-minute trip or planning ahead, RVshare provides the ultimate selection in flexibility and availability.

Details: Best RV rental company for solo travelers

Company RVshare
Locations All 50 states and Washington, DC
RV type All classes of drivable and towable RVs
Starting price per night $75 for Class C RVs, $105 for Class B RVs
Minimum stay Three nights, but variable up to seven nights based on owner discretion
One more thing… RVshare is the world's first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace
Vintage Surfari Wagons

Many RV rentals have minimum stays, usually between three and five days. For those short on time but eager to experience RV living, Vintage Surfari Wagons is worth considering. Based in Costa Mesa, California (and only there), the company has been renting out classic Volkswagen campervans for more than 14 years. Although the majority of its fleet hails from the 1970s and '80s, there are some late-model vehicles available to rent as well. Some campers do come with certain restrictions, though, like 100-mile daily maximums and road-access limits (some can't handle steep hills). Keep your rental period brief and better planned, though, and it'll be no less memorable.

Details: Best RV rental company for short/weekend trips

Company Vintage Surfari Wagons
Locations Costa Mesa, California
RV type Class B RVs
Starting price per night $194
Minimum stay Three nights standard with a limited fleet of single night options
One more thing… Vintage Surfari Wagons offers unique group camp tours
Cruise America

For extended vacations or even as temporary housing, Cruise America has a separate team that specially caters to long-term camper rental requests. With the ability to tap into the 4,000-vehicle fleet, but with dedicated service regarding mobile housing needs -- leisure, corporate and reasons in between -- Cruise America will work with renters' expectations with regards to RV size, amenities and budgets.

Details: Best RV rental company for extended trips or housing

Company Cruise America
Locations 126 across the US and Canada
RV type Class C RVs
Starting price per night $70
Minimum stay Three nights
One more thing… Cruise America RVs are all equipped with kitchens, bathrooms and a receiver hitch for towing
RVnGO

RVnGO is another peer-to-peer RV campervan rental marketplace, but with a simplified and easily customizable rent search. For example, there is a dedicated checkbox for one-way rentals via the website's inventory search. Because listings will be sparse, select the maximum 300-mile range to increase available RVs within your rent pick-up location. Other companies offer one-way rentals, too, but they either are not as clear cut (i.e., pending owner approval) or limited to a specific class type. Keep in mind that RVnGO charges a daily rent insurance fee that varies from $25 to $70 based on motorhome class and another $15 per day for 24-hour roadside assistance.

Details: Best RV rental company for one-way trips

Company RVnGO
Locations All 50 states plus Washington, DC
RV type All classes of drivable and towable RVs
Starting price per night $84 for Class C RVs, $149 for Class B RVs
Minimum stay Three nights, but variable up to seven nights based on owner's discretion
One more thing… RVnGO is a truly free service for RV hosts to list and process rentals
Outdoorsy

Outdoorsy is an RV company that makes searching for pet-friendly RV rentals easy thanks to its inclusion under the listings search box. Pet owners will appreciate that their furry companions are listed under the "Guests" tab. There are no extra rent fees for bringing pets onboard, whether service animals or everyday housemates. But renters will be responsible for any additional cleaning or repair costs associated with pet damage from a trip.

Details: Best RV rental company for pets

Company Outdoorsy
Locations All 50 US states plus Canada
RV type All classes of drivable and towable RVs
Starting price per night $68 for Class C RVs, $59 for Class B RVs
Minimum stay Two nights, but variable up to seven nights based on owner's discretion
One more thing… Outdoorsy has pet-friendly and ADA-accessible filters built into its inventory search
Lost Campers

Boasting rates as low as $35 per night and with unlimited mileage to boot, Lost Campers appeals to the budget-minded RV renter. Plus, returning customers will receive additional discounts and perks. A family-owned business since 2007, Lost Campers has a fleet of inconspicuous, no-frills Class B-converted passenger vans. Basic insurance is included with the option to add extra coverage. Located near Los Angeles, San Francisco and Salt Lake City airports, Lost Campers offers flexible after-hours pickup and drop-off times as well as free 24-hour roadside assistance. 

Details: Best cheap RV rental company

Company Lost Campers
Locations Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco
RV type Class B RVs
Starting price per night $75
Minimum stay Three nights
One more thing… Lost Campers includes unlimited mileage as well as kitchen kits and camping gear for all rentals.
Adventure Travel Sport Rentals

Want to really escape from civilization? Opt for Adventure Travel Sport Rentals, whose tagline is "RVs are for sightseeing; rigs are for adventure." Although its rental location is based out of the greater Denver area, a plethora of national parks and rugged locales are easily within a day's drive. In addition to airport delivery and returns, Adventure Travel Sport offers campervans and converted SUVs that are fully equipped for off-the-grid exploring. This means in addition to beds, bathrooms, kitchens and storage, its "rigs" are also 4x4 beasts. And if you're lucky, you might find one with a manual transmission.

Details: Best RV rental company for going off the grid

Company Adventure Travel Sport Rentals
Locations Denver
RV type Class B RVs
Starting price per night $275
Minimum stay Three nights
One more thing… Adventure Travel Sport Rentals specializes in fully equipped off-road-capable vehicles for truly off-the-grid living
Jucy RV Rentals

An interesting RVing alternative is traveling as a group, but not cohabitating in the same vehicle. A great option for reunions, retreats and rallies, Jucy RV Rentals lets you rent a fleet of converted Dodge/Chrysler minivans. A minimum of four mini RV rentals qualify for special group rates. At six vehicles, you score a free vehicle. Being Class B vehicles, though, they are not equipped with a bathroom, but Jucy does have a discount partnership with KOA facilities. North American locations are in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Vancouver.

Details: Best RV rental company for groups of groups

Company Jucy RV Rentals
Locations Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver
RV type Class B RVs
Starting price per night $95
Minimum stay Three nights
One more thing… Jucy RV Rentals offers discounts on KOA rates and local activities

Know before you go

The biggest consideration when RV renting is, for all its travel freedom, that the RV lifestyle does not come cheap. "One thing first-time RV renters don't ask about but should is budget," says Cruise America's Smalley. "People don't do that with hotels, even though in addition to the room you're also paying for meals, parking, etc. With an RV, you need to budget for gas mileage."

And fuel economy is going to be dismal. Although a Class A motorhome can have an 80- to 150-gallon fuel tank, it'll also return about 6 to 8 mpg. Class C RVs have tanks that average 40 to 80 gallons in size with a return of about 8 to 15 mpg. Class B are the smallest at about 25 gallons, but have roughly the same fuel economy as Class C vehicles. Keep in mind that RVs can be equipped with either a diesel or gasoline engine, which will not only affect mileage, but prices at the pump as well.

Speaking of mileage, as mentioned above, not all rentals include unlimited miles. Especially when renting from peer-to-peer sites like RVshare and RVnGO, don't skim over the owner-listed details too quickly. Some may offer a maximum daily limit (usually 100 miles), which may or may not be included in your rate. Excess mileage is usually a minimum 25 cents per mile, but will increase based on the RV class type. But discounts may be available during slower travel months. This isn't a nickel-and-dime-scheme, either, but necessary revenue to cover the costs of maintenance and, to a smaller extent, minimize abuse.

Rolling around the country in a giant, plush RV will create memories, but be prepared for pricey gas station visits.

Cruise America

Things you're less likely to fret about are rent insurance, customer assistance and licensing. Most RV rental companies have basic insurance included in the price of the rental. But it's not a bad idea to check with your personal auto insurance provider regarding your coverage, either. And 24-hour support is a given as well. Renters can contact their rental company for all kinds of RV support from troubleshooting, campsite locations and roadside help.

As for driving the RV, the threshold for any special certification like a commercial driver's license is 26,000 pounds. Because the vast majority of RV rentals weigh less than that, a valid standard driver's license will pass muster throughout the US. "Many people think that when renting a Class A RV you'll need a special license, however, you can rent any RV on our site with a standard driver's license," says Vija Viksne, RVnGO marketing director. It's worth noting, though, that some Class A RVs can indeed weigh as much as 30,000 pounds. If you're renting something that big and that fancy, you're going to need the matching license to boot.

Currently, states requiring a CDL to drive a 26,000-pound-plus rig are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, New Mexico and Wisconsin, plus Washington, DC. A noncommercial special driver's license is required in California, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming. Thinking of driving an RV through Canada? As long as you meet the licensing requirements of your issuing state, you're free to move about the country.

Unless you're renting a RV that weighs more than 26,000 pounds, your normal driver's license will be sufficient.

Escape Campervans

RVshare spokesperson Maddi Bourgerie recommends conducting a detailed walk-through with the owner. "Things like operating the generator, electrical hookups and dumping the water tanks are all crucial to using the RV and need to be done properly," she says. "Even things that seem simple might be a little tricky. It's important to read carefully any manuals provided by the owner and ask as many questions as you have."

The RV lifestyle offers almost unlimited freedom to explore without limiting who can take part in the adventure. Wheelchair accessible and ADA-compliant RVs are available and can be indicated using inventory search filters.

With many of us eager to get out of the house and just go somewhere, an RV can be that foreign yet familiar escape during these stressful, uncertain times. "The great thing about an RV is that you can rent the exact type specific for your trip," adds Viksne. So, make a budget, pack your bags and hit the road.

Written for Roadshow by Beverly Braga.